Darren Fletcher and Rafael couldn't help prevent a play-off defeat for United's Reserves against Blackburn Rovers at Old Trafford on Wednesday night.
The senior stars injected a healthy dose of experience into the Reds' starting line-up, but two Ruben Rochina strikes in the first period gave Rovers the platform to seal victory. A Davide Petrucci penalty midway through the second half redcued the arrears but Warren Joyce's men failed to find another goal to force the game into a penalty shootout. Blackburn will now meet Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Monday in the national play-off.
Despite the result, there was some good to come out of Wednesday's game. Darren Fletcher, who's played just 17 minutes of first-team football since 6 March, was handed an opportunity to gain some much-needed match fitness and played 65 minutes in the centre of midfield. Sir Alex Ferguson has made it clear he wants Fletcher to play in the Champions League final later this month and the Scot showed enough against Blackburn's second-string to suggest he's well on the road to full fitness.
There was also a place in the starting XI for young Brazilian Rafael, who played 45 minutes on the right side of midfield and almost forced a chance in the opening minute. Rovers stopper Mark Bunn did well to snuff out the danger. Fletcher was also involved early on, teeing up Oliver Norwood to blast just over from 20 yards before dragging a shot of his own just past the post a minute later.
More sound goalkeeping then kept Blackburn in the game, as Bunn produced a splendid stop to tip over Gabriel Obertan's powerful volley. The Frenchman was a constant menace down the left flank in the first period, his pace and power proving a real headache for Rovers right-back Josh Morris.
The visitors hung on, though, and took the lead against the run of play when Rochina unleashed an unstoppable effort from 22 yards that flew past Ben Amos in the United goal. But while the strike was out of the top drawer, Rochina will have been surprised by the amount of space he was afforded in the final third.
Rafael hit the base of the post less than 60 seconds after the restart with a smart volley but it was as close as the Reds came to drawing level before Blackburn struck again just on the half-hour. Rochina nabbed his second with a strong